Sunday, May 18, 2008

Freemen, Metis, and the Selkirk Settlement

What was the background of how these settlers came to our area?

Before the American Revolution, private traders, who obtained their outfits at Mackinaw, gained possession of the trade, and, after the consolidation of several companies with the Northwest Company of Montreal in 1783, there was a larger business transacted with the Indians who lived in this region so abundant in furs. At the commencement of the nineteenth century, the Earl of Selkirk, a wealthy, kind-hearted, but visionary nobleman of Scotland, wrote several tracts, ring the importance of colonizing British emigrants in these distant British possessions, and thus check the disposition to settle in the United States. In the year 1811, he obtained a grant of land from the Hudson Bay Company, described as follows: --
"Beginning on the western shore of Lake Winipie (sic - aka Winnipeg), at a point in 52°30' north latitude, and thence running due west to the Lake Winipigashish, otherwise called Lake Winipie, thence in a southerly direction, through the said lake, so as to strike its western shore in latitude 52°, thence due west to the place where the parallel 52° intersects the western branch of Red river, otherwise called Assiniboine river, thence due south from that point of intersection, to the height of land which separates the waters running into Hudson's Bay from those of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, thence in an easterly direction along the height of land to the source of the river Winipie, meaning by such last-named river the principal branch of the waters which unite in the Lake Saginagas, thence along the main stream of those waters, and the middle of the several lakes through which they pass, to the mouth of the Winipie river, and thence in a northerly direction through the middle of Lake Winipie, to the place of beginning, which territory is called Ossiniboia" or Assiniboia.

Previous to this time the only inhabitants besides the Indians, were Canadians, who, by long intercourse with savages, had learned all their vices, and imitated none of their admirable traits. Unwilling to return to the restraints of well-ordered society, from which they had fled in youth, they were fond of "...Vast and sudden deeds of violence, Adventures wild, and wonders of the moment." They were proud of the title "Gens Libres," the free people.

The offspring of their intercourse with Indian females was numerous. The "bois brulés" were athletic, expert hunters, good boatmen, fine horsemen, and able to speak the native language of both father and mother. Their chief delight and mode of subsistence was in fishing and sharing the buffalo.

From: The History of Minnesota: From the Earliet French Explorations, by Edward Duffield Neill, Pubished 1858.